Chirpwood Art Gallery opens on 10th Street

Handmade wooden frames, locally produced artwork and more can be found at Opelika’s newest art gallery, Chirpwood.
Located next to the Opelika Farmer’s Market on Tenth Street, the business features pieces from well-known Alabama artists including watercolorist Iain Stewart and pen-and-ink sketcher John Warr.
“The common thread isn’t the type of art that we have here, the common thread is that it’s local. There’s a soul to the stuff here, an authenticity, if you will,” said Chirpwood owner Scott Moody.
Moody, a former Lee-Scott Academy mathematics teacher, started the business three years ago. An outdoor enthusiast and fan of wooden objects including birdhouses, he said he blended these passions together to create Chirpwood.
Working out of his basement, Moody said he turned it into a laboratory, finishing his handmade frames with unusual substances or methods like liquid gold floor wax or wire brushing the wood to make them resemble something one would find in a forest.
“…I would be walking, and see something like a mossy, old tree stump and I would just stare at it and try to figure out why my eye perceived it as a mossy old tree stump. I would think to myself, ‘how many colors do you have to have embedded in it before your eye starts picking that up?’” Moody said.
Moody said the rugged, natural appeal of Chirpwood’s frames caused business to boom, and was a primary factor in his decision to move it to Opelika last fall.
In addition to art, Chirpwood recently added a coffee/book-reading area called ‘The Nest’. Instead of a regular coffee bar where long lines and lack of seating are the norm, Moody said The Nest is a self-serve, pay-by-the-hour establishment where patrons are encouraged to sit and stay a while.
“It’s a B.Y.O.B, be your own barista … we’re not a coffee shop. Within 30 seconds, you’re pouring yourself a cup of coffee, getting a snack or buying something over at the (Opelika) Farmer’s Market to bring back here,” Moody said. “We want people to sit down and stay as long as they want to. If you want more coffee, you can go get yourself some more coffee … the idea is that we want it to feel like a club, a membership, where people feel like they’re a part of something.”
Moody said nearly half of Chirpwood’s profits are donated to Bridge2Rwanda, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing aspiring Rwandan youth an opportunity to pursue an education and bring their skills back home.
A volunteer in the organization’s scholarship program, Moody said he returns to the country twice a year to help students hone and strengthen their mathematic skills, as well as prepare them for college life abroad.
“Each year, 40 kids from the program who have degrees from Harvard or Yale return to the country with a world-class education and a desire to be a part of the leadership class of a quickly growing country. The biggest thing I get out of this is the leverage … I get to be a small part of teaching people who are literally going to be in the leadership of a small country in the next 20 years,” Moody said. “We hope that by doing this in Rwanda, the country can serve as a blueprint of success for the surrounding countries in East Africa.”
Chirpwood is open Monday-Saturday from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., and is located at 405 S. 10th St. The business can be found online at http://www.chirpwood.com, or on Facebook and Instagram. For more information, call (844) 692-4477.

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Opelika marches to end violence

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By Morgan Bryce
Opelika Observer

Staff Reporter

Putting an end to any and all kinds of violence was the focus of Saturday’s SAVE march. A crowd of around 100 people marched from Bethesda Baptist Church down South Fourth Street to the Courthouse Square.
City Councilman Larry Gray, representative of Opelika’s second ward, said the idea for the march was the direct result of a “divine vision’’ he had several weeks ago.
“I was having a hard time going to sleep a few weeks ago. Then, out of nowhere, I had this vision, I believe a divine vision, which God used to speak to me to tell me to have a march like this to raise awareness about violence and try to get rid of it for good here in Opelika,” Gray said.
Gray said he knew this event needed to happen as soon as possible, and with help from the city, Bethesda Baptist Church and Opelika’s health and wellness program Elevate Your Grind, the march came together.
Before the march on Saturday, participants gathered in the sanctuary to hear speeches from Gray and other speakers about the march’s meaning to them and what its impact could be on the community. Before dismissal, a Bethesda Baptist church member lead the audience in an a cappella singing of the staple gospel song “Lead the Way.”
The marchers began their procession to the Courthouse Square at 9 a.m. Well-known attendees of the march other than Councilman Gray included Opelika mayor Gary Fuller and Judge Jacob Walker, validating the event with their support.
After arriving at the Courthouse Square, the marchers posed for a group picture and a final word from Elevate Your Grind founder Jeremy Gray.
“The point of today’s march is to put an end to all violence here in Opelika – domestic, sexual or physical. It all has to stop,” Jeremy said.
Gray compared Saturday’s march to the one the Jews took around the walls of Jericho.
“The violence that takes place here in Opelika is like a proverbial wall, like the one in Jericho. If we raise awareness about this issue and march around this proverbial wall enough, that wall will fall down, and for us, maybe see an end to violence here in Opelika,” Gray said.
Greg Ross, one of the sign bearers in the parade, said he feels that this march happened at the perfect time.
“There is so much violence that happens here in Opelika. Having this march is something that can let young people know violence isn’t cool and something that needs to stop,” Ross said.
With a solid turn-out and strong support from the community, Gray said he felt that the march was a success.
“We’re all here today because we love Opelika and want this to be a place where we can feel safe and give kids a chance to grow up without their parents having to worry about them. I would love to see Opelika be violence-free and the safest community in Alabama,” Gray said.
In regards to future plans for similar marches, Gray said it is definitely something he will consider.
“Seeing all the walks of life out here, and blacks and whites out here working together toward a common goal, it definitely makes me want to do it again. It may be annual, or a couple of times a year,” Gray said. “I think of this march as like an earthquake: it started over here on the south side of town, but the waves were felt all over Opelika. I hope that this movement impacts the lives of everyone in Opelika for good and that, one day, this community can be violence free.”

Lending a hand

Opelika fourth grader travels world advocating 3D printing technology

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By Morgan Bryce
Opelika Observer

Northside Intermediate School’s Ethan Falco High is an ambassador of America’s Digital Age frontier, advocating for and demonstrating 3-D printing and robotics testing for prosthetic limbs.
High was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, a condition which occurs after a baby becomes entangled in the amniotic bands in the womb, constricting blood flow and altering the baby’s development. The result can be half-developed or completely missing limbs, depending on which part of the baby’s body that was constricted.
During his mother’s pregnancy, High’s two middle fingers on his left hand did not develop properly, and he grew up having the use of only three fingers. High’s mother, Melina Brown, said that his condition  has never slowed him down.
“We’ve always taken the stance that nothing is wrong with him, and he hasn’t and doesn’t want to use his condition as an excuse for not being able to do something. He may have to try harder to achieve something than most people do, but he can do anything anyone else can do if he tries hard enough,” Brown said.
In his early school years, High was the victim of name calling and bullying, and after a while, he began to wonder if there were other kids who faced the same daily issues and struggles that he did.
“One afternoon while I was on my computer, Ethan came up to me and asked me if there were other kids like him that had ABS, and we looked and found all sorts of support pages,” Brown said. “Seeing all these kids that had ABS too really helped show him that being different isn’t so different because there were lots of kids just like him.”
While searching through comments on one of the support pages, Brown said she saw comments stemming from a post by a man named Jon Schull, founder of a company called e-NABLE.
According to information provided by the e-NABLE website, the U.S. based company is made up of volunteers from all over the globe who help to conceptualize, finance, construct and distribute artificial arms or hands to those who need them, free of charge.
Brown researched and read information about Schull’s company, and she contacted him to inquire about obtaining an arm for her son.
High said the hand was ‘’life changing,’’ and he began to be more socially accepted.
“I think after people had a chance to see my hand and watch me use it, they started to accept me more. Actually, they thought it was cool,” High said. “They realized that I wasn’t different but much like them. Having an artificial hand isn’t my fault, and I’m not weird or different.”
Impressed by the company and their willingness to help her son, Brown began to volunteer for e-NABLE.
“After we contacted e-NABLE about a hand for Ethan, I received a call from them, asking for volunteer help, specifically matching families to volunteer e-NABLE members who actually manufactured the hands,” Brown said. “I decided to volunteer a little, then that snowballed into a lot.”
Shortly after, Schull and the other volunteers saw a need for e-NABLE to form a legal entity for the company, so the legal offshoot of e-NABLE, the Enable Community Foundation, was founded in the spring 2014.
After High’s mother started working with the foundation, he joined in too, fulfilling the roles of tester, demonstrator and 3-D printing advocate on behalf of e-NABLE and other companies who are involved in this growing scientific realm.
“I started volunteering for the foundation right after my mom got involved in it, when I was eight,” High said. “I help demonstrate how the hands work, test the hands to see if they’ll be able to stand up to normal use by a child, and by doing this, I help people understand why people need these hands and how it can make their lives better.”
High, now 10 years old, has traveled the globe for e-NABLE, and most recently, returned from a trip to Dubai. On this trip, he demonstrated the hands on a local television network.
“Dubai was fun, but we did have to work,” High said. “Besides getting to meet people and show them the hands, the best part was getting to see the view from the top of the Burj Khalifa and take some photos.”
High is currently enjoying summer break and preparing to start fifth grade at Northside Middle School in the fall, but he said he already has future plans.
“I really want to keep helping kids like me have better lives. I want to keep working with e-NABLE and one day design hands of my own for people,” High said.
Brown and her administrative assistant Sarah McKenzie operate the Opelika branch of the Enable Community Foundation at Roundhouse in downtown Opelika, and Brown said she is excited for both herself and e-NABLE.
“The Google Plus community where most of the e-NABLE volunteers are active is thriving, and we have nearly 9,000 members now,” Brown said. “It’s great to see this company grow and be associated with something like this with the primary goal of helping people.”
But, more than anything, she is excited for her son’s future.
“Ethan has come such a long way, in both his self-esteem and maturity,” Brown said. “He is a determined little child that doesn’t let things hold him back. The glory of this is, while he gets to do some cool things that most kids his age don’t get to do, he is making an impact – an impact for good on the lives of children everywhere. I believe his purpose in life is to make people’s lives better.”
For more information about e-NABLE to become a volunteer, go online to their website at http://www.enablecommunityfoundation.org.

Stop the Violence Rally held in response to Sunday’s shooting

By Morgan Bryce
Opelika Observer

Staff Reporter

In response to Sunday’s shooting incident in Opelika, an anti-violence rally was held Thursday night at the Covington Recreational Center, located on Carver Ave.
The rally was the idea of Opelika resident Rodnique Ambus, who said she is concerned about the amount of violence going on in the city.
“The death that happened Sunday, it did something to me,” Ambus said. “I’m just trying to save the streets because kids are growing up without their fathers, and mothers are losing their children. They are tired of burying their children, and that’s how I came up with this event.”
After having the initial plan, Ambus and her friend Alexis Mennifield contacted W.F. Burns Middle School principal Dr. Frankie Bell, who told Ambus that she would be more than willing to help her out with the event. Sponsors like the Opelika Housing Authority, Dad’s League and Way2Serve Ministries also contributed to the event.
The rally started with an invocation from Bell, who challenged both the parents present at the event and those in the community to step up and become better parents.
“Some of these kids at my school that I discipline are raised with the attitude that ‘you ain’t gotta respect her, and it makes me wonder – is it really the children we need to be reaching, or is it the adult?” Bell said.
Mattie Clark, a prison ministry leader in Tallapoosa County, spoke on the condition of prisons where she works, and how a lack of a father or paternal-like figure affects the lives of today’s youth.
“I ask every prisoner one thing, and 90 percent of them say they didn’t have a father or father-like figure,” Clark said. “As a parent, you can’t be concerned about just your child, you gotta be concerned about every child. So fathers, men – step up and be men.”
Jarnataka Holmes, one of the attendees of the rally, spoke on how her life has been impacted by the violence in Opelika.
“I’ve been on both sides – I have a brother in jail right now who is serving time for murder. When someone dies, it affects both sides,” Holmes said. “It all starts with the youth. You’re going to have to make up your mind if you will be the person to cause conflict or harm or be the person who walks away.”
Antione Harvis, the fatherhood coordinator of the Opelika outreach organization Dad’s League, said he is optimistic about the rally’s impact.
“I hope that those who are concerned in our community will move to action and connect with all the positive things that are already happening in our community,” he said. “Where we can get people to engage with our youth, one another and support all the positive things that go on in our community.”
Ambus said she was not sure about future rallies similar to this, but hopes that positive events like this will put an end to the violence in Opelika.
“I want the violence to stop before it’s too late, because if we wait too long, we might be caring when it’s too late,” Ambus said.

‘Enough is enough, it’s time to heal’

Ninth annual National Night Out event slated for Aug. 2

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By Morgan Bryce
Opelika Observer

Staff Reporter

Opelika’s ninth annual National Night Out will be held Aug. 2. The National Night Out event, according to information provided by its website, is “an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make our neighborhoods safer, better places to live.”
Along with coordinators Mattie Clark and Oscar Penn, Opelika’s National Night Out is co-sponsored by the City of Opelika, Breaking the Cycle Inc., Opelika’s Parks and Recreation Department, community churches, social clubs, the Opelika Housing Authority and the Opelika Police Department.
The event will begin with a march of local politicians, pastors and concerned citizens, which according to Clark, “is to show that we as a community, along with our churches and city leaders are united in saying enough is enough of our loved ones being killed. It is time to heal.” The march will begin at 5 p.m. in the front of Antioch Baptist Church, located at 605 W. Morton Ave., and will conclude at the Covington Recreation Center, where the night’s block party will be held.
Entertainment at the block party will include performers, children’s activities, police and fireman demonstrations, as well booths set up by community groups. Literature about crime and safety information will be handed out to attendees.
A crowd of more than 300 people attended the event last year, and Clark said she feels confident that more can be expected this year.
“I firmly believe we can beat the 300 we had last year. I’d love to see more than 500 here this year for the event,” she said.
With the outbreak of violence both across the country and in Opelika, Clark said she feels that the need for the National Night Out is more important than ever.
“With all that’s happened lately, we need to come together and show that we are one community. We need to respect our police and be a community that doesn’t tolerate violence,” Clark said.
For more information about the event, contact Mattie Clark at 334-319-0330, Oscar Penn at 334-663-5498 or Jasper Snipes at 334- 444-6513.

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Opelika girl, grandfather bond over beekeeping

By Morgan Bryce

Opelika Observer
Staff Reporter

Eleven-year-old Clara Duncan may be Opelika’s youngest apiarist.
Clara and her grandfather, Bill New, who works part time for Frederick-Dean Funeral Home, started beekeeping last year after years of noticing a declining bee population in his yard.
“I really like gardening, and when I’d be outside over the last four years, I couldn’t find a bee on this property. I knew my garden and fruit trees needed some bees to do better,” New said. “Then I decided to try beekeeping, to increase the amount of bees around here so that my plants could get better pollination.”
New bought his first hive and group of bees last year, and after all the costs involved with buying a pre-made hive, decided to learn how to construct his own, giving him two hives to manage by himself.
Clara and her sister Georgia, the daughters of Trinity Presbyterian minister Chris Duncan, come visit New and his wife Lura every weekend, and New said that he and Clara have had the chance to collaborate on other ventures together.
“She’s always been interested in what Pop’s doing and follows me around. She got me into the chicken business last year,” New said laughingly. “Right after I began to start beekeeping, she took up an interest in bees, and wanted to learn about beekeeping. I told her I didn’t know much and we’d have to learn together, but she was all for it.”
Much like her grandad, Clara had no experience with bees, but she said the chance to try out a new hobby like beekeeping was appealing.
“It’s cool to do something that no one else does and fun to be around animals that can hurt you because you know they can’t hurt you with the suit on,” Clara said.
At the time she started beekeeping, Clara was a fifth grader at Trinity Christian School. She said most of her friends were surprised when they heard about her new hobby.
“Most of my friends are scared by bees, and they just didn’t understand why I wanted to do it,” Clara said.
Nearly a year later, she and ‘Pop’ are preparing for their second year of beekeeping, with expectations of harvesting honey from their hives for the first time in October.
They have kept busy during the spring and summer months, monitoring the safety of the hive and observing the egg-laying activity of their hive’s queen bees. Since starting, New has been reading articles and watching videos about beekeeping, as well as getting advice from a family member who is a passionate beekeeper. But he admits that he still has much to learn.
“We’ve both learned a lot, but still got a ways to go. This year, we’re splitting up our hives and we’re going to do a little research, and test out our ideas on each one, and see how they fare,” New said. “Then, I’ll purchase a third hive later and we’ll run that based off of how our theories with our own turned out. We’re excited to see how all of this is going to go.”
Their planned harvest date for honey is late October, and New noted that because of the plant life in his area, he expects the honey to be “light in color, and really sweet.” Both said they are excited to see how things turn out this fall, and hope to be able to produce enough honey to be able to distribute to both family and neighbors. But for Clara, the chance to spend time with her grandad and be outside is the best part about beekeeping.
“It’s fun to do stuff with your grandparents, because now everyone’s on their electronics and stuff, not spending time with people,” Clara said. “I enjoy being out there with him and being outside. That’s what I like most about beekeeping.”

Easton’s angels from Alabama

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Opelika man becomes ‘angel’ for Florida boy with Spina Bifida

By Morgan Bryce

Opelika Observer
Staff Reporter

For Easton Griffith, a visit to the beach usually involved scraped arms and elbows.  Unable to walk because of Spina Bifida, Easton’s only way to get the full beach experience was to crawl.
Easton and his mother Jennifer live in Bradenton, Fla., which is mere miles from some of Florida’s legendary white-sand beaches.
Recently, Easton’s painful beach trips became a thing of the past, as some “angels from Alabama” visited and gave him a beach-accessible wheelchair, which according to Jennifer, has “meant the world” to Easton.
Easton’s “angel” is Tyler Thompson. Thompson, a Lagrange, Ga., native, owns and operates Auburn Social Media, which is based out of Opelika’s small-business incubator, the Roundhouse. He, like Easton, was born with Spina Bifida, but has not let his condition slow him down.
Thompson’s childhood passion for technology led him to a career in social media and marketing.
“My dad owns a business that deals a lot with computers and other electronics, so I definitely grew up in and around technology and wanted to learn about it,” Thompson said.
As the popularity of social media increased, Thompson immersed himself in this new technological realm, particularly Twitter and Facebook.
A few years ago, Thompson was looking for a job, and thanks to his social media savviness, found a job which allowed him to work with social media for a living.
“I really enjoyed Twitter and got good at marketing myself on there, and the thought crossed my mind of working with social media on a company level, seeing if this would work,” Thompson said. “I reached out to Kyle who was doing Auburn Social Media at the time, and I started working with him in that business.”
In 2014, when Sandler started Roundhouse in Opelika, Thompson became the owner of Auburn Social Media, and according to Thompson, it is a “business that helps establish a social media presence for small businesses like the ones here in Roundhouse.”
The connection between Thompson and the Griffiths began three years ago, after Jennifer posted a picture about Easton’s story in a Facebook group called “I Run 4 Michael.”
“The group was started by a man named Tim Boyle, and Michael was the person he would run for. Michael had a disability which left him wheelchair-bound and couldn’t run. Tim found joy in being able to run for Michael and Michael got a lot of encouragement from that. Seeing their story and journey was a lot of fun to watch,” Thompson said.
Group members who were willing to run for someone with a disability could be paired with them and their families, and after Thompson saw Jennifer’s post on the group page, knew he wanted to race for Easton.
“When I saw Easton’s story on Facebook, I saw this cute kid who had Spina Bifida like me, and I felt a connection to him. I had just started wheelchair racing, and I wanted to roll for Easton,” Thompson said.
Going around the normal matching parameters for the group, Thompson paired up with the Griffiths and started racing for Easton, creating a Facebook page called “This Is How I Roll”, which Thompson used to post photos and videos of him “rolling for Easton.”
After getting to know the Griffiths through Facebook and Skype, Thompson decided that he wanted to purchase Easton a beach-accessible wheelchair.
“I started with a GoFundMe page, and it really flopped. So, all it took was three people that I knew putting in the money, $1,300, for the wheelchair,” Thompson said.
Thompson secured those funds two months ago, and paid for a custom-built wheelchair made by Eagle Sportschairs in Snellville, Ga.
When the wheelchair was finished, Thompson faced a dilemma about getting the chair to Easton. With help from S&S Termite and Pest Control owner and friend John Story, Thompson and he were able to fly to Florida to personally deliver the chair.
“The night before the trip, John and I stayed in a hotel in Atlanta near the airport.  I couldn’t sleep the night before, and at 4 a.m., we were up and at em getting ready for our flight,” Thompson said. “I wasn’t nervous, but excited. I was excited to see something that had been three years in the making happen.”
On the morning of Aug. 2, they arrived in Bradenton, and met the Griffiths at nearby Anna Maria Island, where Jennifer serves as a program director. It was the first time the friends met in person, nearly three years after the start of their friendship. Jennifer said the moment Easton saw the wheelchair was incredible.
“Easton’s eyes got really big, and he asked me, ‘Is that mine?’ I told him yes and of course, the first thing he wanted to do was try it out on the beach,” Jennifer said laughingly.
Thompson was afforded the pleasure of being one of the first to wheel Easton out onto the beach, and said that experience was “one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of in my life.”
Besides making trips to the beach easier, Jennifer said Easton’s wheelchair is helping out in other ways.
“This wheelchair gives him independence and mobility, which is something he hasn’t had before,” Jennifer said.
During their time on the beach, the local television station arrived, and according to Thompson, the reporter kept calling both he and Story ‘’Alabama angels.” On the trip back, they decided to make the “Alabama angels” far more than just a nickname.
“I was talking to John about the nickname, and we decided we want to make this a real, non-profit organization which helps kids with situations like Easton’s,” Thompson said. “It’s made his and his mom’s life easier, and I hope we can do the same for other kids like him.”
The Alabama Angels non-profit organization is currently in its developmental phases.
Looking ahead, Thompson said his plan is to keep working with Auburn Social Media, but would like to be able to one day fully dedicate himself to the Alabama Angels, which he says will “fulfill his passion for helping disabled kids have better lives.”
According to Jennifer, Thompson is quite angelic himself.
“Tyler is an amazing guy, and has a good head on his shoulders. His gift has changed both mine and Easton’s lives, and we are so thankful to be able to know him,” Jennifer said.

Jovon’s approved by planning commission

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By Morgan Bryce

Opelika Observer
Staff Reporter

The Opelika Planning Commission granted a conditional use request at its Aug. 23 meeting to local business owner Lynn Brown, who is planning on opening a new, Southern-style buffet restaurant called Jovon’s. The business is slated to open in early 2017 at Pepperell Corners.
In other business during their session on Tuesday, the commission:
Granted a conditional use request to construct four cottage-style single family homes on a single lot at the premises located at the corner of Randolph Street and Fruitland Avenue.
Approved a preliminary plat for Sentinel Hills subdivision, Phase 2, consisting of 20 lots located or accessible from Lee Road 177.
Approved a preliminary plat for the Eason subdivision of lots located at 3920 Lee Road 390.
Approved a preliminary and final plat for three lots located at the 700 block of Columbus Parkway.
Approved a re-zoning of 14.2 acres of land located at 3000 Columbus Parkway.
Tabled discussion on amendments to the ordinance regarding truck fueling services until its September meeting.

Opelika High School Theatre Society makes 2016-17 debut

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by Morgan Bryce

Opelika Observer

Staff Reporter

The Opelika High Theatre Society will open its 2016-17 season tonight, as they perform an adaptation of Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Lost in Yonkers.”
The play is set during World War II, and tells the story of two brothers, Jay and Arty, who have to move in with their Nazi-leaning grandmother after the death of their mother, which forces their father to take up a job as traveling salesman. Through the course of the play, the boys conceive a plan to make enough money so that they can reunite with their father.
Revel Gholston, OHTS’s director, said that he and the cast began work at the end of July, and that they are ready to perform.
“We’ve been working really hard the last six weeks, and we hope to impress everybody,” Gholston said.
Besides putting on a good show, Gholston said he hopes that those in attendance have a chance to set aside life’s concerns and enjoy the escapement that watching theater has to offer.
“Theater was originally invented as an escape and somewhere where you can go and watch other people and be able to use their imagination. It’s a diversion from reality, which is something we all need every once in a while,” Gholston said.
Tonight through Saturday, shows will begin at 7 p.m. On Sunday, there will be a matinee showing at 3 p.m. Next week’s shows will be Tuesday through Thursday, with all beginning at 7 p.m. The shows will be held at the Opelika Performing Arts Center, located at 1700 LaFayette Parkway. Tickets can be purchased at the door: $7 for adults, and $5 for children. For any other information, call (334) 745-9715.

“Garner”-ing fame

OHS’s Ben Garner wins first three meets of cross country season

By Morgan Bryce

 

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Staff Reporter

The preseason number one runner for Alabama’s 6A schools, Opelika High’s cross country and track and field star Ben Garner has lived up to his preseason billing, garnering three top-place finishes in his first three cross country meets.
Despite the pressure that comes with the number one ranking, Garner said he has not let that phase him.
“Me and my coach talk about the meets like they’re a business trip. I’m up here to run, and I’m up here to win. There’s no in-between,” Garner said.
Garner’s passion for running comes mostly from his father, Trip, who ran track at Mississippi College.
“When I was younger, my dad would always have me and my siblings outside being active, and when I got older, he would have me run with him in local city races … so I got into running a while back,” Garner said.
After several years of juggling basketball, soccer and track, he made the decision to fully dedicate himself to running in his sophomore year.
“It was a difficult decision to make, but I chose running because I thought I could do it at the college level,” Garner said.
Since then, he has performed incredibly well, winning multiple meets and coming in second at last year’s state championships. In addition to cross country, Garner also competes in track and field during the spring, running the 800 and 1600 meter races. He said becoming a good to great runner has been a process.
“I’ve been able to drop a minute every year since I started, which is important, but all of this didn’t mentally click until last year. Eating right and getting a lot of rest are other important things I’ve also improved on since I started in my sophomore year,” Garner said. “My motivation for improving myself is based on my will to win, because I hate losing. Every morning, I wake up and think about some other guy across the state that is probably working today, so I gotta outwork him. That’s what goes through my head every morning.”
Another important aspect to Garner’s progression as a runner is how he evaluates himself and his performance, which he said was lacking last season.
“I got down on myself for losing last year, but it really was frustrating to lose because you run so much. This year I’m up to 900 miles since June 7 … and after you put in all this time and effort, I remember getting mad and thinking to myself after state last year, ‘how did you put all this time into it, and still place second,’ “ Garner said. “But this year is different. I’m the guy to beat, but I can’t think like that. My goal is now, whoever I’m racing against, I’m going to beat them.”
His improvements and accomplishments have not gone unnoticed, as schools like Samford, Auburn, South Alabama, Tennessee-Martin and Syracuse have expressed interest in him. Garner said that finding a team with a solid core of five or more talented runners is his main priority, and that he will begin making visits in the fall to the interested schools. He said he would like to be committed to a school during the early signing period, which is in November, but if necessary, will wait until the later signing period in April to make the best decision for his future.
Beyond college, Garner said one of his biggest dreams is to one day run for the U.S. team in the Olympics.
“Now that I’ve reached my goal of being one of the top in the state, I want to move it to the next level and run in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, and hopefully win gold,” Garner said.
Off the course, he said he likes to spend what little free time he has with friends, or being involved at his church, First Baptist Opelika.
Amidst all the publicity and attention his running skills have given him, Garner acknowledges that his faith and God-given talents are the main reason for his success.
“After races that I win or do well in, I have a chance to be interviewed. Since I’m given that platform, I think to myself, ‘why not use it to spread my faith?’ If I’m given that platform, I believe I need to use it for His glory,” Garner said.
Fresh off his top-place finish at Saturday’s Spain Park Cross Country Invitational, Garner and his cross country teammates’ next event is next Saturday in Columbus, Ga., at the seventh annual Spencer High Greenwave Cross Country Invitational. The next local event for the team will be the Auburn Tiger Classic on Oct. 22 at Kiesel Park in Auburn.

A family affair

Trey

Capps Sausage going strong after 56 years

By Morgan Bryce

Opelika Observer
Staff Reporter

Starting in 1960, Opelika-based sausage maker Capps Sausage has been making some of the area’s finest sausage. People from Opelika and places as far away as New Hampshire and Texas come to the little wooden shack in Beauregard to pick up what some claim as the “world’s greatest sausage.”
The Capps sausage-making tradition began unconventionally, as explained by Billy Capps, the former operator and manager of the business.
“In 1960, my daddy took some hogs to the market, and they didn’t offer him nothing,” Billy said. “He loaded those hogs and brought them back home. My daddy and his family had already been making sausage for years, and he figured he could make more off the hogs by just making them into sausage.”
Billy, who grew up working in the business, said his father, Bill Sr., never expected the business to take off the way it did.
“At first, my daddy only had the sausage at around Christmastime, and after a few years it got to be Thanksgiving to Christmas and eventually the first weekend of November to the end of May,” Billy said. “As the demand for the sausage grew, my daddy tried to accommodate it, and the best way to do it was having it available for a few months out of the year.”
Word of mouth was Bill’s preferred means of marketing, as the reputation and appreciation for the delectable sausage grew.
The Capps family managed to do both sausage-making and farming, but by the 70s, the sausage business was lucrative enough where the Capps’ could rely solely on that business for their livelihood.
In the late 70s, the Capps purchased nearby Dupree Grocery, and Bill and Billy ran the store for several years. Bill sold his portion of the grocery business in 1982, and ran the sausage operation by himself until Billy sold the grocery store in 1995. For the next five years, Billy and later his son Trey helped run the sausage business until Bill’s retirement in 2000.
“When I took over, my dad had laid a solid foundation for me,” Billy said. “I didn’t change much about the running of the business, except the hours and casing for the sausage.”
Now, 16 years later, Billy is still involved in the sausage-making process, but passed the full-time duties on to Trey in 2012, who has continued to grow and expand the business.
The recipe the Capps’ use stemmed from a conversation Bill had with a family friend and former meat distributor, Benny Edwards, about how to make sausage.
“My daddy and his folks were visiting with Benny, and they eventually got to talking about making sausage. Benny ended up giving them the recipe, which is what we still use today. We’ve only had to make a handful of tweaks over the years to make it better,” Billy said.
Though Trey only sells sausage from October to April, there is still much planning and working in advance.
“Me and dad will start making the sausage the week that we open, and do it every week, depending on how much we need,” Trey said. “We do 220-pound batches at a time, and with my dad’s help, we can do 1800 pounds from 7 in the morning till about 1 or so.”
After they process the meat and put the meat into casings, they take the sausage to the smokehouse, which sits adjacent to the store. There, the sausages are cold smoked overnight to give the sausage its signature flavor.
“We used to do all hickory for the smoking wood,” Billy said. “But hickory is kinda strong by itself, so we started using pecan and oak to balance out the smoke flavor a bit.”
The next morning, Trey and Billy go to the smokehouse, and put all of the meat in the cold room, to preserve the flavor and keep the sausage fresh until the store opens.
The full menu that the Capps have includes: cheese, bacon, smoked link sausage, patty, baby-size fresh link and plain or cheese and pepper fresh link. Trey said he may look to start expanding his horizons and tackle some additional kinds of sausage.
“I’m on a trial run of making Chorizo sausage for a Mexican restaurant in Auburn,” Trey said. “I also want to try making Boudin, which is something I see that we don’t have here. I’m always looking for new things to try, and it keeps people interested.” (Boudin is a Cajun stuffed sausage-rice-spicy seasonings delicacy.)
Even after passing on the business to Trey, Billy still comes to help him whenever he needs it, and the close bond between father and son is quite evident.
“We might fuss, but it’s over in five minutes,” Trey said laughingly. “Then after that, you go about your business like it never happened. Growing up with a family tradition like this gives you an opportunity to spend time with your family, which is something that not many jobs let you do.”
Also near and dear to the hearts of the Capps is their customers, and according to Trey, they make the experience invaluable.
“Our customers are amazing,” Trey said. “I’ve seen license plates from all over, New Hampshire to Texas, Florida to Kentucky and Alabama to Oregon. They are dedicated, and always make sure to let us know how much they enjoy our products. It makes it all feel worth it.”
Salem resident and Capps customer Samuel Gullatte gave reasons as to why he loves the sausage so much.
“It’s a family-owned company, and they make the best sausage, period. I grew up eating it, and its been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” Gullatte said.
Looking ahead, Trey said he sees a bright future for his business.
“The demand for our products consistently grows,” Trey said. “I don’t know if my son Brady will be interested in doing this one day, but I know personally that I plan to keep making sausage as long as I can.”
The Capps will open for business on Friday, Oct. 7, and will run through the last weekend of April. To place an order for sausage, call Trey at (334) 750-8970. The business is located at 555 Lee Road 100.